YOU might not think that a restaurant in a chain motel off the A303 would be a dining destination in itself, but a visit to the Solstice Bar and Grill at the Holiday Inn Express at Amesbury could change your mind.
Around a million visitors head for nearby Stonehenge, one of the world’s truly iconic heritage sites (in a time when “iconic” is applied to everything from a cupcake to a one-hit-wonder reality television star).
All those people really do need somewhere to eat, as do the many thousands who travel up and down the A303 each week.
While the 160-acre Solstice Park at Amesbury provides a range of fast food choices, the Solstice Bar and Grill offers something more. The recently refurbished restaurant is somewhere you can sit in comfort without the pressure of speedy turnaround, and food includes dishes for most tastes, utilising local suppliers rather than over-familiar franchised menus.
Nine miles from Salisbury and less than six from the new Stonehenge visitor centre, the Solstice Bar and Grill provides full wi-fi connectivity, not only for those who insist on checking their messages throughout the course of any meal but for business meetings and small conferences in a convenient location just off a major road without the stress of city centre traffic and parking.
Chef Matthew Bills has been at the Solstice Park Holiday Inn since it opened, and is delighted by the new opportunities for showing his talents provided by the new look Bar and Grill.
Because the hotel is primarily a service for users of the A303, the restaurant serves food throughout the day from 10am to 10pm, and the menu covers everything from light starters and hot and cold sandwiches and grill favourites to main dishes featuring a Best of British food selection. There is also a fixed price menu.
It’s not fine dining, but it’s a world away from fast food in polystyrene and paper bags, and the choice of food should encourage local regulars as well as passers-by.
We had a midweek lunch, starting with succulent pan-seared king scallops served on pulled pork rillette, and Thai fish cakes, followed by pan-fried sea bass and duck “three ways”, that wonderfully cheffy thing you never do at home.
Portions were generous without being daunting, and the presentation was temptingly attractive.
The vanilla creme brulee with pomegranate compote rounded off the meal.
We thought we should try a local beer and chose Stonehenge Ales Great Bustard Light – a perfect celebration of the reintroduction of the bird onto Salisbury Plain in 2003.
Our friendly waitress made sure we had everything we needed, and had local information at her fingertips.
If you are coming from the west, be warned that the signage off the Countess roundabout is confusing, as Solstice Park vanishes from the signs and you need to follow the Boscombe Down turning before they reappear.
But charming hotel manager Marc Solarz will soon be taking the question up with the highways department!